Scenario and Visioning Work
In our scenario and visioning work, we need to clarify whether
our focus is to find one image of or pathway to the future or to
create forums for generating many of them. In my understanding,
the processes involved in generating one overarching vision and
many diverse visions are different (although similar and in no way
We may work on one image, just to show that a good future is truly
possible. Or we may create multiple visions to open a space of possibility
that may have juice for diverse people, projects or perspectives.
Or we may generate a very generalized vision which inspires diverse
people to create their own specific version of that. And so on.
Here are various approaches to visioning and scenario work.
Item 1: The Boulding/Ziegler model
Elise Boulding and Warren Ziegler did future visioning workshops,
which I first heard about nearly 20 years ago. They'd take an audience
of perhaps 100 people and invite them to all move (in their imaginations)
to a more peaceful world 20 (or 50) years hence. "Think about
what it is like in this peaceful world, what life is like -- from
what the news is to how you do your shopping." After some individual
visioning, they'd break the crowd into groups of 3-5 and participants
would take turns focusing on one person, asking them questions,
helping them get their vision really solid and clear, and then helping
them get it articulated in a written paragraph. Then they'd move
on to the next person in the group.... until they'd all gotten something
Then everyone would post their future-descriptions around the room
and there'd be a long break while people read each other's descriptions.
After the break people would reconfigure in groups of individuals
whose visions were similar. This time they'd move TOGETHER in their
imaginations to their more-or-less-shared future and work up detailed
collective scenarios. Then, together, they'd REMEMBER what had happened
over the years since this very workshop that led to their chosen
future, with particular attention on what they did following the
present-time workshop to bring their chosen future about. All this
"remembering," of course, was going on in their imaginations.
Then they'd transform themselves into an action group to plan and
do those things needed to bring about that future.
At least that's my impression of what they did. I never did one
of these workshops; I have old notes from a lecture I heard. I have
more recent materials from Ziegler, but haven't read them yet (I'd
be happy to share them). I am intrigued by the novel idea of remembering
back from an imagined future. But what seems to me most significant
about this approach is how it embraces diverse visions within the
realm of one powerful, ambiguous, and passionately shared value
(in this case PEACE).
The Boulding-Ziegler futuring workshops bear a strong resemblance
in this regard to Open Space conferences
in which all who come must be passionate about the topic. Once an
Open Space conference starts, participants self-organize into dozens
of different dialogue and action groups. The diversity of their
perspectives and activities is contained and aligned by one unifying
principle -- the topic of the conference -- and a few simple shared
procedures (the Open Space methodology). I just realized that the
Boulding-Ziegler futuring workshops could be called Open Space Imagineering
(I'll talk more on imagineering, below).
Item 2: Self-Organizing Systems, Values and Visions
One of the main established principles of self-organizing systems
(and complexity theory) is that a few simple laws or principles
capable of shaping the behaviors of otherwise free agents can generate
incredibly complex and orderly patterns with little or no additional
management or co-ordination. In organizations, strategic visions
that come from (and therefore reside in) the hearts and minds of
the stakeholders (as opposed to mission statements dictated from
above) serve this purpose, allowing a facilitative (rather than
directive) management style to be effective. This organizational
mode is especially effective in times of uncertainty or rapid change
or when the sphere of operation is very complex, since centralized
linear management systems cannot efficiently process the vast amounts
of information involved.
This would suggest that the basic values/realities of the new era
(such as the Golden Ruler trio of interconnection, wholeness and
co-creativity that I came up with in Monday night's meeting) could
be the "attractors" around which people did visioning
along the lines of Boulding/Ziegler (i.e., new era values/realities
would replace the Boulding/Ziegler theme of PEACE, but the rest
of the process might be much the same). This would generate a wide
variety of possible forms for and routes to diverse futures all
of which embody new era values and take into account new era realities.
The resulting futures would align to new era values because only
people for whom new era values were paramount would participate
in formulating those futures. Any work then done to actualize these
diverse futures would be moving in the same direction (i.e., along
the vector implied by new era values and realities).
A key to the success of this approach would be the few-ness, precision
and articulation of those values: Are they THE values we want to
have, or are there others? If we try working with too long a list
of values, then its self-organizing power will be diluted; people's
attention will be dispersed and the results will be less alive and
aligned. We need to discover the few truly fundamental principles
we're basing our new era visions on, and use those.
Item 3: Some Words from a Useful Book
Here's a quote from Michael D. McMaster's THE
INTELLIGENCE ADVANTAGE: ORGANIZING FOR COMPLEXITY (Butterworth-Heinemann,
1996), pages 150-151:
"The concept of vision is our organizational attempt to fill
the space of possibility. Most visions suffer from a lack of understanding
possibility and the future. Most people see the future as a place
to get to and live as though the future is waiting out there in
front of us with an existence of its own. In these limited linear
models of the universe and time, a vision as a goal makes perfect
sense. At some level [however] we all know that the future will
not unfold in the way that we are imagining it and that a vision
will not be accomplished as stated. But even so, there must be some
value inherent in having a vision.
[a statement in the margin proclaims:] "Exploring what's possible
opens possibility. Codifying what's possible closes possibility.
"Exploring what's possible and engaging in the thinking, dialogues
and actions that develop those possibilities are both of great value.
The richness of the representation of the resulting future will
depend on the amount of participation and dialogue that has helped
create it. Then how we are able to describe our future becomes the
challenge. A rich representation of that future will be possible
and valuable only if it can be expressed in poetic, metaphorical,
or abstract terms. If these terms are able to capture the fundamental
and enduring values of that vision, then something of power has
been created. An expression that keeps a corporation's values bright
and clear and at the same time remains abstract and nonrestrictive
is a powerful way of keeping a space of possibility open. But even
more effective than that, the space of possibility can be kept open
by continually engaging in conversations that develop the very space
"Most vision statements and other such expressions are designed
to motivate people. If these expressions actually carried intentions
of including people in the development of the possibility of the
future, then we would gain much more. But inherent in intentions
to convince or motivate are notions of separateness that are counterproductive
to the possibilities of inclusion and participation. To begin to
integrate these intentions, we must realize that exploration of
the space of possibility is the domain of each and every person.
When we realize that people are interested in and capable of exploring
possibility, then we will unreservedly include them and gain a wealth
of information and creativity. When we recognize that possibility
emerges from dialogue and that the broader the dialogue the richer
the possibility, then we will have broken through into something
exciting that remains alive and flourishing."
McMaster goes on to say that the ideal vision or strategy statement
-- one that maximizes the productive potential of a space of possibility
-- contains a rich ambiguity (metaphor, poetry, imagery, value-words,
implication, etc.) which demands engagement and interpretation by
the reader. A reader who shares the passion implicit in the statement
can creatively remove the ambiguity (through engagement and interpretation),
producing explicit statements (understandings, plans, etc.) upon
which they can then base productive activity. To the extent a statement
is invitingly ambiguous, therefore, it can embrace a wider zone
of possibility than an explicit statement. To the extent it is value-laden,
it has power to generate efforts towards explicitness and resulting
explicit activities in those who share the values embodied in it.
I find all this an interesting analysis and challenge.
Item 4: Story Fields and Co-Creativity
A story field is my coined phrase for a force-field of mutually-reinforcing
narratives and life-patterns which shape the thoughts, feelings,
responses and behaviors of those who live in the field. "The
American Way of Life" (rags-to-riches, own-your-own-home, etc.)
is such a story field, as are "Feminism," "Progress"
and "The Career." Story fields could be called the narrative
dimension of culture (or, for an individual, the narrative dimension
In a co-intelligent society, people would collectively and consciously
generate the story fields in which they lived, instead of having
those fields generated by corporate media, official spin-doctors,
and authoritative traditions. In the language of democracy, The
People would co-create the stories by which they then lived.
So a major aspect of co-intelligent social change / cultural transformation
is the co-generation of alternative story fields. Not just as a
way to "get from here to there," but as a component of
ongoing, conscious cultural evolution. (Where we're trying to get
to is not a state but a process, a process which starts right now.
This can be a little hard to articulate, a bit paradoxical, a bit
confusing for those who haven't thought much about the subject.
But it is very important. To be consistent with our understandings
of holism, quantum mechanics, complexity and the participatory nature
of reality, "a world that works for everyone" cannot be
framed as a utopian system that generates benevolent conditions,
but rather as a co-intelligent culture through which succeeding
generations can continually recreate their culture to suit their
changing needs. We are not wise enough to design the future. No
one is or can be. But we can easily be wise enough to create conditions
and systems that help communities to co-create their lives, including
their story fields.)
Item 5: Visionaries and Storytellers
Once I envisioned visionaries (like me) and experts in sustainability
getting together with storytellers (like Ursula LeGuin, Marge Piercy,
Bruce Springsteen and scriptwriters) and journalists (like those
at YES! magazine) -- as well as all the other story-workers
in our society -- the historians, psychologists, philosophers, etc.
-- to create written/told/performed narratives which would weave
a many-faceted alternative story field. In the novel Ecotopia we
can witness certain things going on in one particular place; but
I always wondered: what's going on 300 miles north of the community
described in the book? There's another novel there, waiting to be
written. Same with LeGuin's Always Coming Home; she alludes
to other cultures here and there around the one she's describing.
Why doesn't she or another novelist take up the challenge of writing
something from those other vantage points. (Actually she does do
it, from only from the bad-guy culture's vantage point. So it's
only a start.) If William Faulkner could create Yoknapatawpha County
(in which practically all his stories take place), and Garrison
Keillor could create a thousand stories about Lake Wobegon, shouldn't
a few dozen visionary novelists, singers and scriptwriters be able
to co-create a rich fabric of future stories and their "prequels"
(like Callenbach's Ecotopia Emerging)? We have precious few
good utopian novels and fewer yet that actually serve to help us
build a new culture. Such fictional stories, interwoven with stories
of people who are actually living out pieces of these stories (as
reported in YES! and elsewhere), is what I mean by creating
an alternative story field.
The conversations that created those stories could be in an event
(e.g., a week-long open space) or a network (with online conferencing
and listserves) -- and it could be product oriented (getting a series
of novels written) or it could just let the ideas and images flow
around among the people, with products popping out of it every now
(Update: This vision came true to a certain extent in the 2007
Story Field Conference.)
Speaking of which... there is another approach, which I called
imagineering back in 1988 when I created the idea. (I later learned
that Disney uses the word with a different definition.) Imagineering
to me embraces any use of the imagination to actually create (or
try to create) the imagined reality. A supreme example is The
Monkeywrench Gang, a novel which provided the story out of which
Earth First! arose, born of those who decided to live out the story
of sabotaging billboards and earth moving equipment. Walden Two
and The Turner Diaries are other imagineering stories which
generated real activities.
In 1988 I did a participatory imagineering experiment at a Green
Gathering: I created a small journal called The Ecotopian Grapevine
Gazette, which contained news articles about neat things that
hadn't happened yet, but which we wanted to have happen, written
AS IF they had happened. Then, at the end of each article, I put
a contact name around whom people could gather who wanted to make
that story a reality.
Nothing came of it then, but I think the time may be ripening for
something like it now. The action groups that came out of the Boulding/Ziegler
workshops could be viewed as another form of imagineering. In
the last 20 years many examples of
imagineering have emerged.
Item 7: Scenario-building as a path to shared understanding
I read an article in "Wired" magazine about the Global Business Network (Ogilvy and those other
scenario builders) which described scenario work among polarized
South Africans (ANC, the National Party apartheiders, etc) before
the dissolution of apartheid. As participants collaboratively worked
over the four most likely scenarios for their collective future,
it became obvious that only one scenario would give ANY of them
what they wanted -- namely a coalition grounded in the majority
and dedicated to steady economic growth, not a welfare state. In
this use of scenarios, the participants weren't trying to find The
Best Future they could work for. They were considering the natural
unfolding of various approaches and discovering together the consequences
of each approach. This resulted in a shared understanding which
then guided the subsequent behaviors of the parties involved. This
use of scenario-building has less of a planning sensibility to it
and more of a "let's get some insight into what makes sense"
Often scenarios are explored using a quadrant grid, each axis of
which contains opposite possibilities. Prior to Y2K, for example,
a leading scenario grid proposed by David Isenberg and promoted
by Douglass Carmichael had one axis representing, at one end, technology-related
failures being sparse and independent, while the other end represented
technical failures being interconnected and systemic. The other
axis represented society's reactions: at one end there was social
cohesion, and at the other end social breakdown. The four quadrants
were therefore labeled as follows:
- Official Future: Sparse failures + social cohesion leaves
the world running with business as usual.
- Smoke in the Theater: Minor technical breakdowns, magnified
by the media, generate public panic which leads to social, economic
and political breakdowns.
- The Millennial Collapse: Major systemic failures and
widespread public panic create the horror everyone wanted to avoid.
- The Spirit of Community: Major systemic failures are
met heroically by the public rallying together at the community
(All this is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven't yet found
a book that describes the varieties and functions of imaginative/scenario/futuring
work -- but there are many... One effort to pull it all together
is the Infinite Futures
site, a fascinating adventure....)
Resources (Thanks to The Arlington
Institute for many of these).
The Art of Strategic Conversation by Kees Van Der Heijden
Planning: Managing for the Future by Gill Ringland
Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz
Our Future: A Guide to Community Visioning by Gary Green,
Anna Haines, and Stephen Halebsky
to Build Scenarios
by Lawrence Wilkinson
Change the World: Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Activists
by Adam Kahane
of Technology by Richard E. Sclove. Includes description
of European Scenario Workshops
Scenarios by Art Kleiner - Whole Earth, Spring 1999
The Global Business
a Community Vision
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